Key to Umbria: Spello

Two nunneries of Spello have their own pages in this website:

  1. Santa Maria di Vallegloria (including Santa Maria di Vallegloria Vecchia); and

  2. Santa Maria Maddalena.

Monastero della Povera Vita (15th century)

This institution, which was first documented in 1442, housed a community of female followers of Angelo Clareni, who formally followed the Rule of the Franciscan Third Order, under the spiritual guidance of the Clareni friars of Santa Caterina, Rapecchiano (east of Spello).   No other community of female Clareni is known in the Valle di Spoleto. 

In 1571, the Apostolic Visitor found the house too small for its 22 inhabitants and banned new entries.  Its subsequent decline was rapid, and the last sister died in 1628.  Its property passed to the Seminario San Felice.

Since 1970, the building has housed the Casa della Povera Gente, which was established here by a Parisian, Maddalena Löwit (known as Maddalena di Spello).

Santa Chiara (13th century)

This nuns of this nunnery in Via Giulia formally followed the Benedictine Rule, although they actually lived as Franciscan Tertiaries.  The oldest surviving documentary reference to it is relatively late, dating to 1350.  The nuns of SS Giacomo e Margherita (see below) moved here in 1464.  The merged community was suppressed in 1781, and the complex passed to the Ursuline Congregation.  This foundation closed in 1822.

Immaculate Virgin with saints (ca. 1700)

This panel from Santa Chiara, which is now in Santa Maria Maggiore, is attributed to Carlo Lamparelli.  It depicts the Immaculate Virgin with SS SS Agnes, Antony of Padua, Felix, Clare and a female saint.

San Giovanni Battista (1342)


Abbess Margherita di Andreuccio received permission from the Bishop of Spoleto to found a nunnery here following the Augustine rule.  The archives of the nunnery no longer survive, but a historical work derived from them in 1882 makes frequent references to the protection the nuns received from the canons  of San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome.  In fact, a number of nunneries established in the first half of the 14th century used devices like this to escape papal jurisdiction, which would have required strict enclosure.


The nuns built the surviving oratory in 1643.  An inscription on the facade records their association with San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome.

In 1816, Pope Pius VII transferred the nuns to Santa Maria Maddalena.  

Stucco decoration of the high altar (1650)


This fine ensemble includes a relief of the Baptism of Christ. 

St Catherine of Alexandria (17th century)

This panel on the altar on the right depicts the standing St Catherine with
  1. six scenes from her life and martyrdom to the sides and below; and

  2. the Annunciation above.. 

Madonna di Constantinopoli (1630)

This panel, which is dated by inscription, is on the altar on the right.  It depicts the Madonna and Child in glory with SS John the Baptist, Apollonia and Charles Borromeo 

Art from the Complex

Birth of St John the Baptist (1575)

This on the left wall of Santa Maria Maddalena, which depicts the birth of St John the Baptist, came from San Giovanni Battista .  It is attributed to Felice Damiani and dated by inscription.  If this attribution is correct, it is his earliest known work.

SS Giacomo e Margherita (1258-9)

The Benedictine nunnery of SS Giacomo e Margherita (also known as the Monastero di Vallingegno) was constructed shortly after Pope Alexander IV had prohibited the building of new nunneries in Spello because this would prejudice the Poor Clares of Santa Maria Vallegloria.  The bishop of Nocera Umbra failed to follow his order to demolish the new foundation, and Pope Urban IV took it under papal protection in 1263.

In 1325, the Augustinian nuns of Santa Maria del Paradiso moved here from their nunnery on Monte Subasio (which had been established in 1296). 

SS Giacomo e Margherita was enclosed by the new town walls in 1360. 

The nuns moved to Santa Chiara (see above) in 1464, and SS Giacomo e Margherita fell into ruins.  Only scant vestiges survive, near the Torre di Santa Margherita in the medieval walls.  (This tower was damaged in the earthquake of 1997 and subsequently restored.  It now houses the Fondazione Sinisca, which exhibits the work of the contemporary photographer and sculptor, Mario Siniscalco.) 

Return to Monuments of Spello. 

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Nunneries of Spello

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